Chapter 13 : Characteristics of Emerging Adulthood

What is (or was) your life like from age 18-15? Do Arnett’s five characteristics of emerging adulthood accurately describe your own experience during this period?



Emerging adulthood is the period of transition roughly between ages 18 and 25, from adolescence into adulthood (Santrock, 2019, p. 402). Jeffrey Arnett defined 5 major characteristics of this period: identity exploration (romantic and work), instability, self-focus, feeling of being in limbo, and an age of possibilities (Santrock, 2019, p. 402). This period can be both exciting and stressful. Arnett proposes that for some adolescents, emerging adulthood offers an exciting transition in which they get to take control of their lives and have more agency to set themselves up for a more hopeful future (Santrock, 2019). For some however, emerging adulthood is shaped by new responsibility and the stress that one may not be able to make their dreams come to pass (Santrock, 2019). These realities may end up in a healthier lifestyle (more exercise, better diet, etc) or they may provoke development of unhealthy habits to cope with the stress, and potentially spark depression (binge drinking, substance abuse, etc) (Santrock, 2019, p.403).


My emerging adulthood was characterized by intense stress and also incredible hope. It was full of contradiction. At the same time as feeling incredibly hopeful and finally free to pursue the future I had wanted for so long, the reality of pursuing the future was challenging and I was often full of doubt. Ironically, the textbook refers to binge drinking and drug use as unhealthy, and yet I look back at my own alcohol and drug use with fondness and as a symbol of relaxation. I was experimenting with limits, risk taking, letting go of control. As an adolescent, everything was calculated, so the partying of emerging adulthood felt like in some ways, it was claiming freedom and agency. Being in professional circus school, it is hard to measure the quality of food and quantity of exercise, because it was largely dictated by the program. But the feeling of being in limbo was terrifying and exhilarating.


Santrock, J. W. (2019). Lifespan development (17th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.